by Helen Ellerbe

The author thinks the Catholic Church, not Jesus, gave mankind orthodox Christianity by suppressing Judaism, Gnosticism, and various other heresies with force, threats, and reason. This theory has little merit because every thing the Catholic Church did was done in the name of Jesus. The author is implying that St. Paul, Jesus' followers, and the succeeding apostles and bishops did not understand Jesus.

One of the reasons to believe in Jesus and orthodox Christianity is that modern science developed in the west, not China, India and other countries of the east, even though in the middle ages the east was just as advanced technologically. Modern science emphasizes intelligence and reason, as well as observations. According to Pierre Duhem, modern science began when the Bishop of Paris condemned as heretical 219 Aristotelian propositions in 1277. According to Ellerby, “Papal prohibitions in 1210 and 1215 restricted the teaching of Aristotle’s works in Paris” (page 55). These are two of the propositions:

25. That God has infinite power, not because He makes something out of nothing, but because He maintains infinite motion…


66. That God could not move the heaven in a straight line, the reason being that He would then leave a vacuum.…

That a personal God created the universe promotes the belief that the universe is intelligible, which is the foundation of the scientific attitude. This attitude is lacking in the east, but was not lacking in Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton who spent decades of their lives trying to understand the universe.

A similar example of how the author misunderstands history is her observation that the Catholic Church used the Resurrection of Jesus to instill fear and augment its authority. The author considers this a bad thing, like the Condemnation of 1277, as it is known. Second guessing the Catholic Church is a dubious activity because it was the Catholic Church that gave us the peace, rule of law, prosperity, and justice of western civilization.

In 390, Emperor Theodosius ordered a massacre at Thessalonica when a riot over a false arrest caused the death of an officer in the Roman army. Theodosius’s Gothic troops surrounded an amphitheater, filled because of a circus, and killed a predetermined number of the hapless spectators. In addition to the hooligans rounded up and executed by the local authorities after the riot, seven thousand were killed in the amphitheater. The bishop of the capital of the Western Roman Empire at that time (Saint Ambrose of Milan) denounced Theodosius publicly and excommunicated him for what he did. After performing public penance for eight months, Theodosius humbly went to Ambrose for the sacrament of Holy Communion.

It was only in the west that government rulers were afraid of bishops. In 649, a council called by Pope Saint Martin I excommunicated certain bishops of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) for Monothelitism, the doctrine that Christ had only one will. The Byzantine emperor supported the heresy and, after a failed plan to assassinate the pope, arrested Martin and transported him to Constantinople. There he was found guilty of failing to subscribe to the heresy and died in 655 after much suffering and public humiliation.

The subservience of bishops in Byzantium to secular rulers, in contrast to Martin’s steadfastness, is shown in the controversy over religious images. In 726 Emperor Leo III, under the influence of several Eastern bishops and Caliph Umar II, published an edict saying religious images were idols forbidden by Exodus 20.4–5 and commanding that they be destroyed. The patriarch of Constantinople protested, but Leo replaced him with one Anastasius. Because of the unpopularity of iconoclasm, Leo’s son-in-law was able to temporarily depose Leo’s son and successor, Constantine V. Constantine regained power and continued the fight against images by blinding and publicly flogging Anastasius, who had changed his mind about iconoclasm when Constantine was out of power. In 754 Constantine convoked an ecumenical council to condemn the worship of images. Bishops from Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem refused to attend, but over 340 bishops from Byzantine sees condemned image-worshipers. Iconoclasm was abandoned for good in 842.

In 1073, Pope Saint Gregory VII was elected by the cardinal-bishops of Rome and confirmed in the office by Henry IV, German King and Roman Emperor, in accordance with an election law voted on by 113 bishops at a synod in Rome in 1059. In 1075 Gregory called a synod that banned the appointment of bishops by layman, making bishops dependent on the papacy rather than kings and other lords. This was especially threatening to civil authorities in Germany because the bishops there were feudal lords over vast territories in addition to being ecclesiastical authorities. At one point in the so-called investiture conflict, Henry lost so much support from rivals and bishops loyal to Gregory that he humbly submitted to Gregory at the Castle of Canossa to remove an excommunication.

Pope Alexander III (1159–1181) was a professor at the University of Bologna, one of the first degree granting institutions in the world. He was the author of a commentary on Decretum Gratiani, a 1400 page treatise on ecclesiastical law (canon law) written in 1040 by a Bolognese monk. Canon law is the positive law of the Roman Catholic Church and stood along side imperial, tribal, feudal, urban, mercantile, manorial, and customary law. It was a constitutional body of law because it recognized limitations on the Church’s authority, set forth processes for selecting officials, and allocated legislative, administrative, and judicial powers.

Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), educated at the University of Paris and the University of Bologna, wrote a number of decretals that became part of canon law. One decretal denied a request from a feudal lord in France to legitimatize two sons from a second marriage while his first marriage was canonically valid. Another decretal claimed the pope’s right to settle the war going on between France and England. This decretal admitted the pope had no competence in purely feudal disputes, but said in matters where sins were being committed the papacy had jurisdiction. A third decretal addressed a civil war in Germany caused by the election of two rival kings and said the pope has the authority to decide between the two kings and whether a king of Germany is fit to be emperor. In another case, Innocent excommunicated the entire country of France, with the exception of unbaptized infants, to pressure its king (Philip II Augustus) to reconcile with his lawful wife who he abandoned for another woman.

In 1212, Innocent III deposed King John of England because of a disagreement about who should be the Archbishop of Canterbury, leaving it to Philip II Augustus to enforce the order. After being threatened by Philip, the English king followed the pope’s advice. In a further attempt to placate the pope, King John entered into a feudal arrangement with Innocent in which the Roman Catholic Church would get 1000 marks per year and King John would get to rule England. This added to the grievances the English barons had against John and they forced him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. Innocent opposed this important document in the development of constitutional law, not because of the rights it bestowed, but because it was enacted without his consent.

Another reason for the west’s superiority over the rest of the world, besides the rule of law, is the value Christians attach to honesty and other civic virtues. The following quote from St. Paul supports civic virtue because it means that membership in families, clans, tribes, and ethnic groups is not as important as membership in the human race:

So the Law was serving as a slave to look after us, to lead us to Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But now that faith has come we are no longer under a slave looking after us; for all of you are the children of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus, since every one of you that has been baptized has been clothed in Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female…for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3.24–28)

When the Catholic Church lost its influence because of the Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment, the result was the Thirty Years War, the French and American revolutionary wars, the Franco-Prussian War, and the two-phase European civil war called world wars.

The Age of Enlightenment also gave us Darwinism, the pseudo-scientific idea that human beings, not just their bodies, evolved from animals and that some human races were more evolved than others. Darwinism justifies scientific racism, eugenics, and genocide. The first attempt to eliminate a category of human beings in the 20th century was carried out in German South-West Africa in 1907. Genocide for political reasons was first practiced on a massive scale by the Communist dictatorships. The motives of the National Socialist German Worker's Party (Nazi Party) in practicing genocide on Jewish people and other ethnic groups is well-known.

The Catholic Church persecuted Jewish people, Cathars, and others because of a disagreement about the content of God's revelation to mankind. Catholics, like all other people of faith, believe human freedom is before a transcendent reality, called God in the west, and that when human beings die their past is somehow gathered up and becomes the defining moment of their lives. The Catholic Church was following its conscience.